Sorry for those of you who expected a blog on Colombia capital Bogota, a late spanner got thrown in the works and instead we headed to one prong of Colombia's coffee triangle Armenia. It all started as I wondered around the hostel carelessly and impatiently before we set off, with all the hammocks taken my attention drew to the notice board advertising hostels for other towns and cities across Colombia. A few caught my attention for example The Pit Stop in Medellin. But it was a poster for a hostel in The Coffee Triangle that caught my attention. I'm not a massive coffee fan, infact I wouldn't say I'm one at all but I remembered from our time in Laos that Earl had a particular fondness for the caffeine based drink. So, with my good pal in mind I had a quick search on google about the place in semt really good and even though I'm no coffee fan at all the reviews sold it to me. Well it was either the reviews or the fact that changing a plan last minute semt very appealing. The google search also told me that the town of Armenia was only 3.5 hours away. That would have been all well and good if I had thought of this plan earlier, but by now we were approaching evening and if we wanted to go we would have to set off ASAP to get there before the days close. In all honesty I had many opportunities to make this pan beforehand but nothing clicked in my head. I had read about the coffee triangle before but must have just dismissed it is as soon as I read about it because of my dislike for coffee. Then there was the chap from USA who we still don't know the name of, just that he was awful at the pub quiz in Arequipa and his New Zealand lady friend Amanda, they had told me the previous night they were off too Pereira another prong of the coffee triangle but again drunkenly I dismissed this telling them it sounded crap because I hated coffee. It wasn't until I saw the hostel poster that like I said something clicked. I went and reported my findings to Earl, who wasn't too impressed as he had just got comfy on a bench reading the third instalment of the Game of Thrones. But after a bit off a push I managed to entice him on to the computer and to see for himself. A quick google search later and we were scampering for our bags and hurtling towards the bus terminal in a taxi. We arrived at the terminal and bought a ticket for the next bus to Armenia which was scheduled to leave at 6.10pm, however, it never left. The bus, or should I say mini-bus only had three passengers so they must have decided it was not worth it and delayed us until the 7.10pm bus. We eventually left the bus terminal at 7.40pm with the bus about 50% full. It wasn't all bad as we were waiting I got to sample a Colombian empanada, infact I sampled three. Colombian empanadas were good, I would put them only behind Argentina in terms of quality Empanadas in South America. They were cheap and tasty what more do you want? I could have got six of them to Earl's six small potato tots and questionable chewy meat. When we got underway in our mini-bus I was less than impressed that they had no lights meaning I couldn't read also the leg room was a bit less to my liking but luckily there was nobody in front to lean back into me. With my iPod dead I was stuck for things to do so I watched Friends until my laptop battery died. My Friends a thon lasted approximately 1.5 episodes and then with no electronic items and no light to read I was left with my own thoughts, which is not the greatest thing for me. Things didn't get much better either as the bus went from 50% full too a 150% full with people even sitting in the aisles of the mini-bus. My right knee was relieved when we reached Armenia 3 and a half hours after leaving Cali. It was also close to midnight so after a swift soft drink at the bar attached to the hostel to cure my parched throat it was time for bed as we were off the next morning to explore Colombia's coffee triangle.
To the average consumer, coffee can be found in aisle 3 at the local supermarket. Some know it grows on some sort of tree, and most people need it to help start their day. Me personally as I've said in this blog I'm not a fan of coffee, but with Colombia being in the top three distributers of coffee in the world, I thought when in Rome I'd give it a bash and find out about the origin of your morning cup of Joe, and besides I assumed a visit to The Coffee Triangle of Colombia would be much more fun and informative than reading a Wikipedia page. I assumed correctly. Although things didn't get off to a flyer, we had to make our own way to a town called Buena Vista where we would meet our guide. This would mean catching two buses one from our hostel to the bus terminal and then one from the terminal to BV. The only problem was when we got to the terminal we forgot where we were going; all I could remember was that it began with the letter B. So after enquiring about buses to Barranquilla which happens to be one of the most northern parts of Colombia, and asking tourist information who were as useless as a chocolate fireguard Earl remembered it might have had the word vista in it and soon enough later we found a bus to Buena Vista. We were greeted on arrival by the guide - Juan, he looked a bit like one of my good friends Zephan Taylor but without the glasses, but had a touch of Keith Lemon about as commonly he would break into a 'Ooooooofffff' or 'Ooooooossshh.' We started by sitting in the plaza of Buena Vista having a coffee, well I had nothing as Juan explained his tour business had just started and about himself, and coffee. We then hopped in his car and he drove us to various coffee fields explaining the different types of coffee plants, this also allowed us to see beautiful views over the area where the coffee was being grown along with other products including bananas. This excited me greatly and took me back to my banana working days as I re told Earl Stories from that time of my life. I'd seen banana farms before in Ecuador but these in Colombia semt a lot more professional as they even bagged there bunches to protect from sunburn, something I failed to spot in Colombia. We then went to a farm owned by a guy called Leo whose was working closely with Juan in getting tourists to see the Colombia has more to offer than cocaine like so many are led to believe. At Leo's farm and despite his absence we found out about the process of making coffee from the picking of the ripe cherry been to the roasting of the dried out been which by this point as lost 98& of its original weight. It's something I found fascinating, touching back on my banana days again it always astounded me how much work needed to go into a banana for it to be placed on a supermarket shelf. It was just something I took for granted and coffee was no different. What was impressive about Leo's farm was that unlike the others he not only grew coffee and Banana's but he also dabbled in Pineapples, Passion fruit, Papaya's, Avocado, Onions, Chickens, Pigs he had all sorts. I'd say you name it he had it but that would be exaggerating a little as I can think of a few things off the top of my head he didn't have. His variety was shown at lunch though as we scoffed down two courses, one a soup and another a meat based dish which was primarily all the farms own produce. After lunch we had a taster of the premium coffee they produce. I drank the small cup, and although it didn't inspire me to start drinking coffee it was bearable it was a step in the right direction and pleased Juan that I didn't hate coffee as much anymore. A quick look at how the coffee was stored and Earl buying some coffee beans and we were off, the tour was effectively over but Juan took us to the town where he lived, a small town called Pijao. Here we shared a beer and some chat and met his business partner and probable love acquaintance an American called Julie. It was a great day, the only downer was my own fault as I thought it would be wise to not look where I was going and put my left foot in an ants nest letting the little critters roam my left leg and giving me multiple bites. Even though I was not and still not quite the coffee fan I would highly recommend you visit Armenia and especially the WakeCup tour, they were a new tour group just starting out and you could tell that as they lacked a bit of structure and professionalism but what they lacked in those areas they more than made up for in Enthusiasm and infact at some points it wasn't even like we were on tour it was like we were walking around with a friend. So go, you would see not only where much of the world's best coffee comes from, but a beautiful tropical region with proud people.
We arrived back at the hostel at around 6pm, after a failed walk back from the bus terminal where we got slightly lost. I was also glad we were to leave that night on our long walk back Armenia didn't do itself any favours. We walked past endless amounts of junkies, the town would even put Mansfield to shame but despite all the crack heads we made it home safely. We went to find food and were most disappointed by a burger place. Firstly we had to wait what semt an eternity (around thirty minutes) for fast food. Secondly they got Earl's order wrong and thirdly they didn't process my order at all. By the time Earl had his burger, which has to be said did look impressive I just wanted to get out of there and decided to eat at the coffee bar attached to the hostel. I missed the drama which was about to occur though as I pooped for a number two and while I was gone a petty thief tried a bag snatch from someone at the front of the bar. The key word was tried though as three burley men who could easily play Rugby had the chap pinned to the ground and even throwing in a kick or two as I returned to place my order for a Meat sandwich. The commotion carried on until the police arrived quite a while later, led the man away and talked to the folk involved. On the downside of the entertainment being played out in front of me, despite the obvious shock for the victims was the delay it added to my food being ready, I was wasting away. Starvation was prevented hen my food was served and the sandwich was a delight, at least four kinds of meat, cheese, lettuce and tomato it was just what the doctor ordered. The less I say about the crisps that accompanied the dish the better, they were stale and bland but as I was starving they still made it down the hatch.
With the hole in my belly temporarily filled, an episode of friends watched it was time to set off on our travels again and to see if this time we could make it to Colombia's capital city - Bogota.
So until next time stay safe and take care